By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008
More than three dozen Democratic congressional candidates banded together yesterday to promise that, if elected, they will push for legislation calling for an immediate drawdown of troops in Iraq that would leave only a security force in place to guard the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Rejecting their party leaders' assertions that economic troubles have become the top issue on voters' minds, leaders of the coalition of 38 House and four Senate candidates pledged to make immediate withdrawal from Iraq the centerpiece of their campaigns.
"The people inside the Beltway don't seem to get how big an issue this is," said Darcy Burner, a repeat candidate who narrowly lost to Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) in 2006.
The group's 36-page plan does not set a specific deadline for when all combat troops must be out of Iraq. "Begin it now, do it as safely as you can and get everyone out," Burner said.
The starkest difference between the group's proposal, dubbed a "Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq," and those embraced by many senior Democrats and the party's presidential candidates is that it rejects the idea of leaving U.S. troops on the ground to train Iraqi security forces or engage in anti-terrorism operations. The group instead calls for a dramatic increase in regional diplomacy and the deployment of international peacekeeping forces, if necessary.
One of the signatories, Donna F. Edwards, who bested Rep. Albert R. Wynn in his Prince George's County-centered district in the Democratic primary on Feb. 12, said the candidates are offering "real leadership." She also gave credit to "some in the Congress who are prepared to demonstrate the political will" to end the war, signaling that she disagrees with Democratic leaders who have been thwarted in their legislative efforts to reshape President Bush's Iraq policies.
The antiwar candidates include several challengers who are highly touted by Democratic leaders, including Burner and Eric Massa, who is running a second race against Rep. John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr. (R-N.Y.). A few are running in Democratic-leaning districts and, should they win their primaries, are likely to win in November. Many more are, for now, longer-shot candidates running against veteran Republican incumbents.
Democratic leaders said the new candidate coalition does not signal a divide in the party's war policy.
"Democrats are united in our need to bring change in Iraq," said Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "It's up to the individual candidates to determine how to best do that for their district."